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From Flashes to Edges to Objects: Recovery of Local Edge Fragments Initiates Spatiotemporal Boundary Formation
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Spatiotemporal boundary formation (SBF) is the perception of illusory boundaries, global form, and global motion from spatially and temporally sparse transformations of texture elements (Shipley and Kellman, 1 993a, 1994Erlikhman and Kellnian, 2015). It has been theorized that the visual system uses positions and times of element transformations to extract local oriented edge fragments, which then connect by known interpolation processes to produce larger contours and shapes in SBF. To test this theory, we created a novel display consisting of a sawtooth arrangement of elements that disappeared and reappeared sequentially. Although apparent motion along the sawtooth would be expected, with appropriate spacing and timing, the resulting percept was of a larger, moving, illusory bar. This display approximates the minimal conditions for visual perception of an oriented edge fragment from spatiotemporal information and confirms that such events may be initiating conditions in SBF. Using converging objective and subjective methods, experiments showed that edge formation in these displays was subject to a temporal integration constraint of 80 ms between element disappearances. The experiments provide clear support for models of SBF that begin with extraction of local edge fragments, and they identify minimal conditions required for this process. We conjecture that these results reveal a link between spatiotemporal object perception and basic visual filtering. Motion energy filters have usually been studied with orientation given spatially by luminance contrast. When orientation is not given in static frames, these same motion energy filters serve as spatiotemporal edge filters, yielding local orientation from discrete element transformations over time. As numerous filters of different characteristic orientations and scales may respond to any simple SBF stimulus, we discuss the aperture and ambiguity problems that accompany this conjecture and how they might be resolved by the visual system.